Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Planning a generation of research on abolition

Over the weekend I finished the late Sir Michael Quinlan’s ultimate contribution to public discourse on nuclear weapons, Thinking About Nuclear Weapons: Principles, Problems, Prospects (Oxford, 2009). I will be wrestling with the breadth of his important insights for some time, but one observation stood out to me immediately: the specific scale of time over which those who support (and those who contest) the nuclear disarmament enterprise need to be thinking:

“Neat prediction is plainly impossible, but few informed commentators would be likely to rate at better than fifty-fifty the changes of [existing nuclear armouries] being entirely dissolved before, say, the centenary in 2045 of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki catastrophes.” (page 166)

The figure of 36 years isn’t shocking, but the act of suggesting a specific date brings the need to plan, institutionalize, and establish a sustainable tempo for the project of nuclear disarmament into clearer focus – perhaps comparable to the specific challenge established by the Millennium Development Goals in creating a fifteen-year timeframe for reducing poverty. Quinlan identifies new research as am important early step:

“The aim of study would be in the first instance not to establish or advocate a program of action or to inaugurate a negotiation, but simply to lay a better foundation of understanding upon which debate about prospects, options, and possible path-clearing work might be advanced.” (page 164)

He also observes that this research:

“needs to be tackled whether or not one believes in the realism of [nuclear weapons abolition] – optimists and sceptics can find common ground.” (page 166).

Aligned with these important insights, I offer a piece in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists today:

“The trade-offs between uncertain paths forward should be explicitly debated both by today's experts and tomorrow's nascent explorers. These tensions of zero--institutional transformation, universality, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and deterrence--will never be cleanly resolved. But if we're lucky, we will be managing them long after the legal abolition of nuclear weapons. Learning to do so effectively is the work of a generation, and we are a generation behind in preparing our best and brightest for this work.”

Friday, May 22, 2009

Post-event attribution of nuclear explosions

On April 22, 2009, the Program on Nonproliferation Policy and Law hosted a workshop on the "attribution" of nuclear explosions after the fact -- referring to efforts to identify the source of the nuclear explosive design and/or material used to create a nuclear explosion -- after the fact. This important event brought diverse perspectives to bear on this important question.

Dear friend and mentor of the Nukes on a Blog team, Professor Anthony Clark Arend, posts video from this important event here: http://anthonyclarkarend.com/humanrights/video-what-happens-after-a-nuclear-event/

The Program on Nonproliferation Policy and Law is a collaborative effort of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the Institute of International Law and Politics at Georgetown University supported by the Advanced Systems and Concepts Office of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The President and the Four Statesmen

The President of the United States met today with former Secratary of State George Shultz, former Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sam Nunn, and Former Secretary of Defense William Perry to talk about movement toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Watch C-Span's video here:

Friday, May 8, 2009

The importance of being Frank with Japan

Vice President of the Cohen Group and longtime senior U.S. official with responsibility for nuclear weapons policy, serving in the U.S. National Security Council and Office of the Secretary of Defense, Frank Miller spoke this morning to the Congressional Breakfast Series sponsored by the National Defense University Foundation and the National Defense Industrial Association.

Mr. Miller made many interesting, important, and thoughtful comments on the future direction of U.S. nuclear weapons policy. One of his more predictable comments was that:
“our friends and our allies will continue to look to us to provide a nuclear umbrella, and if we don’t some if not many of them will build their own nuclear weapons.”
This argument has long struck the Nukes on a Blog team as too open-ended. Never having heard clarity about the specific circumstances or U.S. actions that might lead U.S. allies to reconsider their nonproliferation commitments, we are unable to imagine productive debate about how such dangerous circumstances might be avoided or mitigated in the context of prudent efforts toward nuclear disarmament in compliance with our shared obligations to Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the political requirements of stable nuclear nonproliferation more broadly. Nukes on a Blog recidivists will recall that Leonor questioned the requirements of extended deterrence and their relationship to allied nuclear proliferation with Mr. Miller in October 2007, with less than fully satisfying results.

The Japanese case is one of a small number at the center of this topic. Professor Michael Mochizuki sheds interesting light on the Japanese nonproliferation commitment in a July 2007 article for The Nonproliferation Review. Ploughshares Fund President Joseph Cirincione recently shared his concern with a capacity audience at the Elliott School of International Affairs that this argument could be used to block movement toward further deep cuts in U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals:
“you should watch this debate…this is one of the new arguments for doing nothing…I think it’s nonsense; I think there are some Japanese officials using this for their own purposes and I don’t think it’s true.”
These arguments suggest to us that there are multiple important and interrelated factors that bear on the nonproliferation commitments of U.S. allies, particularly including Japan; that a careful understanding of the conditions necessary for the stability of these commitments must be part of any effective strategy to prevent nuclear proliferation globally; and that the emerging historic opportunity to make prudent and effective progress toward the abolition of nuclear weapons suggest that greater and more inclusive consideration of these topics is urgently needed in dialog with our allies -- again particularly including Japan.

We are pleased to discover seeming agreement with Mr. Miller on needed next steps in this regard, as he explained today:
“We need to work with the Japanese Government and open up a very rich dialogue with the Japanese Government…”
like that we have had with our European allies about the requirements of extended deterrence;

“that is a dialogue that is desperately needed.”

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

2053 is Enough

The Preparatory Committee of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) has posted a fascinating new piece of artwork by Isao Hashimoto to their website that helps viewers understand nuclear explosive testing as a global pattern. We encourage you to view it here: http://www.ctbto.org/specials/1945-1998-by-isao-hashimoto/